Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Write a Compilation - Part 3

Dianne has contributed to all
these compilations
(and more).
In this part 3 of my "How to Write a Compilation" we'll talk about the legal issues including the contract you'll need to create for your contributors to sign, then a little about publishing your compilation book, marketing your book, and keeping the whole project organized.

I've also received a follow up question from Pierre (who started this whole series with his question on how to write a compilation). He asked me about the "rights" to the stories that we, the one who is putting together the compilation, purchase from the writers who contribute. I know I said last month this would be the third and final post on how to write a compilation, but now I'm thinking next month we should talk about "rights." This is apply not only to authors heading up a compilation project, but also to  writers who write for magazines, compilations, or other short works,

At the very end of this post you'll find descriptions of what's in Part 1 and Part 2 of "How to Write a Compilation" plus links to those blog posts.


You are going to need some kind of written agreement between you and your contributors to your compilation book. You need to have this agreement in writing. You're going to have to create your own agreement because nobody else is going to do it.

When I did my compilation, Deliver Me, these stories were very personal and private. I had to make sure nobody was sharing someone else's story who would sue me! Hiring a lawyer was not the answer in the beginning because a lawyer doesn't know what I needed for a publishing contract. 

Luckily for me I had contributed to many compilations and had signed a contract for nearly every one of them and so I had those samples to work from. I "copied" the parts out of several and tweaked them for my needs. Once I had my agreement the best I knew how to make it, THEN I hired a lawyer to go over it for me. I explained to her what I was doing, explained the added privacy issues involved, and asked her to make sure my contract covered me well so I wouldn't get sued. It cost me a little (a couple hundred $ if I recall accurately), but I felt it was well worth it for that project. And I have not had any problems. Of course before the contract I communicated clearly with every author individually making sure they understood this was going to be published so anyone could read it. Did they have permission to share the store from anybody referenced in their story? Are they sure it was going to be okay? They were all eager and adamant about wanting to share their stories. So when the contract came there were no surprises.

These are Dianne's six books.
The one on the top (Deliver Me) and the one on the
bottom (Grandparenting Through Obstacles)
are compilations.
By the way, for those who wrote "as told to" stories for other people, I not only had the writer sign the contract, I also required that they, the writer, get their interview subject to sign it as well. In some instances I needed several signed agreements for one story. Don't be shy about doing this. I had to make sure I had permission to use the story and I had to have that permission in writing. A "verbal" agreement just won't do for something so vitally important. Taking such care has served me well and you should take such care with your compilation.

     About privacy: 

Every time I write about private issues, and every time I work with someone else who is writing about deeply personal stories or issues, the question comes up, "Should I share that part or not?" 

Here's my personal rule: Ask yourself (or the writer or person): "Do I/you feel ANY hesitation or reservation at all about sharing this? For any reason? "

If the answer is yes, DON'T SHARE IT. The reason for this is because once it is published, you can't get it back. It's out there. Even more so in our age of the internet. So if you have ANY thought that maybe you shouldn't say that, don't. 
If later you change your mind and become certain you want to share this story (or this part of a story), there will be future opportunities to share it. 
However if you, or they, share it and then change your/their mind and wish you hadn't, it's too late. You can't undo that any more than you can un-ring a bell.

Always remember PEOPLE are more important than the PROJECT. Remember people are your priority, not the project, and you'll do fine. (Tweet that!) I would rather give up the whole project than irreparably hurt one person. Honor the people involved and most often they will honor you. (Tweet that!)

     Get Permission in Writing

Some of my original stories I had for Deliver Me were amazing. However it took so many years to see the book to completion that I lost contact with the persons involved with those first stories. The phone numbers and email addresses they'd given me were no longer good. I could not get the signed permissions I needed, so I had to scrap the stories. This made me very sad, but I simply could not use the stories without permission, and without that permission in writing. Don't fudge on this. You'll be in trouble if you do.

The rule here is: 

No signed agreement? No published story in the book! (Tweet that!)

     What to Include in Your Written Agreement

Please understand I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I'm only offering a little help from my own experiences. You need to seek out whatever professional you need to help you with your project. 

In general, here are some of the topics to address in your written agreement with your writers:

  1. Rights. Which rights are you buying and which rights is the writer selling? Do you want to use the story exclusively? Or is it okay with you if the writer sells it elsewhere also? Do you want to use the story FIRST? What if the writer sells it elsewhere and it is published there before your book comes out? 
  2. Payment.
  3. That their story is not infringing on anyone else's rights, etc.

Just a note: On the cover of my Deliver Me book it says "edited by" and then my name. My cover designer did that and I didn't object. You can call yourself the "author" if you want, even if you didn't write everything in the book. Technically, that's what you are, I believe. (Others may have another opinion possibly.) You can call yourself the editor as I did, because you're surely going to go over every story and edit it for your own tone and theme and corrections. (Minor edits like this are okay, but you should never change the meaning of what the writer wrote without them knowing an approving the changes. Don't "enhance" the story, etc.) Or you can call yourself the compiler: "Compiled by...".

Staying Organized

By now you have your writer's guidelines going out and hopefully submissions coming in. You're picking the stories you want to use and you need to make sure you communicate with each writer about all the contract details. You have to answer different questions from each one. You may have asked for edits or changes to make some stories better. And you won't want to miss getting a signed agreement. In other words, you have a lot going on and you need a way to keep track of everything.

I made a checklist for everything I needed per story: 
  • contract/permissions, 
  • bio for the back of the book, 
  • name that goes on the byline, 
  • mailing address where I was to send the contributor's copy and check, etc. 
Then I made a notebook with a divider for every story. I put a checklist behind every divider. Then I checked things off as they were done. When the signed contract came back I 3-hole punched it and put it in the notebook. (Tweet that!I have those notebooks to this day in case there is ever a question about permissions or contracts or anything else. 

As a sample I'm sharing sharing my actual Contributor Checklist that I used for Deliver Me here as a sample:


You may want to publish your compilation book independently or you may want to try to interest a traditional publisher in it. That's a whole discussion in itself which I talked about in my January 1, 2014, post here:


As with any book don't forget to plan how you're going to market your book.

Try to get your contributors to help you market the book, but don't expect a lot. (Tweet that!) It's your baby, not theirs, so you're the one that will best champion your baby to the world. But here are some ideas:

  • Brainstorm ways Contributors can market the book. Make a list and provide it to them. Be careful not to be overwhelming. It might be better to give a short list regularly than a long list all at once.
  • Maybe start with small circles and work outward, meaning start with the contributors' families, then their towns, then their circles of influence (organizations, ministries), then nearby cities, then their states, etc.
  • Maybe create opportunities that they can jump on board with as their schedules allow, such as a Facebook Event or a Goodreads Event
  • If your contributors are in your area, or are where you'll be on vacation, maybe you can organize a get-together or an in-store author event book signing. (For help with your in-store author book signing event, see my newest e-book for writers called Book Signings).

Final Thoughts:

Look at other compilations for examples of all these various items discussed here, including Writers Guidelines, how the book is organized, etc. One very successful series of compilation books is, of course, the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Learn more about them at www.ChickenSoup.com.

That's all I can think of about writing and organizing compilation books. If you have a question that I didn't address, leave it as a comment below and maybe together we can discuss an answer for you. 

Have you put a compilation together? Or have you contributed to one? Tell us about it in a comment. I hope this has inspired you to create your own compilation. 

Good luck and let us know how it goes! 

Related Articles:

  • How to Write a Compilation - Part 1: Includes what a compilation book is, how to write a compilation and options for who writes the stories, asking writers to contribute, and creating writer's guidelines for your compilation and getting them out there where other writers will find them.